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Bob Dole opens up about his final salute to President George H.W. Bush

The former senator and GOP presidential nominee said he didn't go to the Capitol expecting to salute, but he felt compelled in the moment.
/ Source: TODAY

The late President George H.W. Bush was honored in a number ways following his death, but it was Bob Dole’s simple tribute to him that was arguably the most powerful.

Once fierce political rivals who later became close personal friends, the 95-year-old former Kansas senator was helped out of his wheelchair so he could offer a proper salute to Bush as he lay in state last month in the U.S. Capitol.

“I wanted to pay my respects, so I wanted to stand up and maybe bow my head,” the one-time Republican presidential nominee told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview. “But I got on my feet — it’s almost like my subconscious was moving my left arm. I didn't go there with the intent to salute, but I did.”

Bob Dole salutes casket of late President George H.W. Bush
Former Sen. Bob Dole salutes the casket of former President George H.W. Bush as he lied in state at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 4, 2018.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Bush died Nov. 30, 2018 at age 94. He and Dole were contemporaries with a long rivalry that reached back to when Bush replaced Dole as chairman of the Republican National Committee in the Richard Nixon era.

Multiple bruising battles to become the Republican presidential nominee followed. Somehow, a deep bond emerged between the two.

Bob Dole talks about his Bush salute
Dole worked with President George H.W. Bush as a U.S. senator.TODAY

“You know, George Bush and I were close friends. We also had some rather tough races against one another,” Dole said. “But he was my friend and he did a great job as president. And so did his son.”

Dole’s wife, former Labor Secretary and North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, said she felt so much pride in her husband during that "beautiful" moment.

“I think it lifted people’s spirits,” she told TODAY.

The couple soon heard from people from around the world describing the salute as a powerful moment.

“It just kind of gave people a lift at a time when there's so much divisiveness,” she said.

TODAY will air more of the interview with the Doles, including their 43-year marriage, in February.